oversight

Highway Infrastructure: Perceptions of Stakeholders on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-04-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to the Ranking Minority Member,
             Committee on Environment and Public
             Works, U.S. Senate


April 2003
             HIGHWAY
             INFRASTRUCTURE
             Perceptions of
             Stakeholders on
             Approaches to Reduce
             Highway Project
             Completion Time




GAO-03-398
             a
                                               April 2003


                                               HIGHWAY INFRASTRUCTURE

                                               Perceptions of Stakeholders on
Highlights of GAO-03-398, a report to the
Senate Committee on Environment and            Approaches to Reduce Highway Project
Public Works
                                               Completion Time


Constructing, improving, and                   Respondents from 33 organizations identified 13 approaches as most promising
repairing roads is fundamental to              for reducing the time it takes to plan, design, gain approval for, and build a
meeting the nation's mobility                  federally funded highway project. These approaches fell into three areas:
needs. The Federal Highway
Administration (FHWA) supplies
                                               •   Improving project management. Most approaches (8 of 13) focused on
most of the money (about $20
billion in fiscal year 2003), and                  state-level activities that could be conducted earlier than customary, with 90
state departments of transportation                percent of respondents indicating that establishing early partnerships and
are primarily responsible for                      early coordination among all project stakeholders is highly important to
completing projects. Many federal                  reducing project completion time. Other approaches included added
and state agencies (called resource                flexibility for states in determining impacts on historic properties and
agencies) help ensure that                         imposing time limits on environmental reviews.
environmental and other concerns
are considered. These and other                •   Delegating environmental review and permitting authority. Between
organizations have recognized that                 half and two-thirds of the respondents indicated that utilizing programmatic
the time it takes to complete                      agreements between transportation and resource agencies to address
complex federally funded highway
                                                   commonly occurring issues, unifying overall environmental assessments
projects is too long—in some cases
nearly 20 years.                                   with reviews of project impacts on wetlands, and creating large banks of
                                                   wetlands to replace those lost at highway project sites offered significant
GAO was asked to report the views                  promise for reducing project completion time.
of knowledgeable officials on the
most promising approaches for                  •   Improving agency staffing and skills. Nearly 60 percent of the
reducing completion time for                       respondents indicated that using interagency funding agreements in which
federally funded highway projects.                 state departments of transportation can ensure timely attention to
GAO obtained the views of 33                       environmental reviews of their projects by funding staff at federal or state
officials from federal, state, and                 resource agencies offered significant promise to reduce project completion
private organizations with interests               time. About half of the respondents told us that adequate training of
in federally funded roads.
                                                   transportation staff on the requirements of all steps in completing a highway
                                                   project was also a promising approach.

GAO recommends that FHWA                       For the most part, the respondents were not able to estimate how much time
consider the benefits of the 13 most           adopting one or more of these approaches might save. Respondents’ views
promising approaches and take                  varied both within similar types of organizations (such as state departments of
actions needed to foster more                  transportation) and across lines of responsibility or interest. Generally, agencies
widespread adoption of those that              and other organizations with primary responsibilities for or interests in building
appear to be the most cost
                                               and funding highways ranked certain approaches higher than did agencies and
effective. While not commenting
on the recommendation, the                     associations with a primary focus on resource issues, and vice versa.
Department of Transportation                   Nonetheless, most of the 13 most promising approaches had widespread support
generally agreed that these                    across organizations.
approaches represent opportunities
to reduce project completion time.             Although some of these approaches are in use across the country, respondents
                                               acknowledged that the usefulness of these approaches could vary by the type of
                                               project or community values. For example, projects that are not complex or
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-398.
                                               contentious would not necessarily achieve the time savings that these
To view the full report, including the scope   approaches afford for projects with complex characteristics or disagreement
and methodology, click on the link above.      among stakeholders.
For more information, contact Katherine
Siggerud at (202) 512-2834 or
siggerudk@gao.gov.
Contents



Letter                                                                                                    1
                            Results in Brief                                                              2
                            Background                                                                    4
                            Most Promising Approaches Identified by Stakeholders Focus on
                              Improving Project Management                                               7
                            Conclusions                                                                 19
                            Recommendation for Executive Action                                         19
                            Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          19


Appendixes
             Appendix I:    Scope and Methodology                                                       21
             Appendix II:   Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway Project
                            Completion Time as Identified by Respondents                                26


Tables                      Table 1: Most Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway Project
                                     Completion Time, as Identified by Stakeholders                       3
                            Table 2: Percent of Respondents Rating the 13 Most Promising
                                     Approaches Highly, Including Average Rating                          8
                            Table 3: Comparison of Rankings of 34 Approaches to Reduce
                                     Highway Project Completion Time by Transportation and
                                     Resource Respondents                                               10
                            Table 4: Organizations Contacted to Determine Most Promising
                                     Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion
                                     Time                                                               22
                            Table 5: Structured Interview Questions Used to Identify the Most
                                     Promising Approaches to Reduce Highway Project
                                     Completion Time                                                    24
                            Table 6: Promising Approaches to Reduce Project Completion
                                     Time Identified and Rated by Respondents, by Average
                                     Rating                                                             26
                            Table 7: Views on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project
                                     Completion Time Often Varied by Respondent
                                     Affiliation                                                        32




                            Page i                      GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Contents




Abbreviations

FHWA         Federal Highway Administration
NEPA         National Environmental Policy Act


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Page ii                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
A
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, D.C. 20548



                                    April 9, 2003                                                                      Leter




                                    The Honorable James M. Jeffords
                                    Ranking Minority Member
                                    Committee on Environment and Public Works
                                    United States Senate

                                    Dear Senator Jeffords:

                                    Constructing, improving, and repairing roads and bridges are fundamental
                                    to meeting the nation's mobility needs to facilitate commerce, national
                                    defense, and pleasure use and to promote economic growth. Therefore, the
                                    Congress has an interest in seeing that federally funded highway projects
                                    are completed in a timely manner. Many of the organizations with a role in
                                    highway project completion have recognized that completing major
                                    highway construction projects takes too long—in some cases about 20
                                    years. As a result, these organizations—including the Federal Highway
                                    Administration (FHWA), state departments of transportation, and other
                                    stakeholders—have acted to reduce project completion time by developing
                                    initiatives in several areas and by publicizing what they believe are
                                    successful strategies. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century,
                                    enacted in 1998, contained provisions designed to streamline
                                    environmental reviews, a component of projects often cited as offering the
                                    greatest opportunity for reducing the completion time of federally funded
                                    highway projects. As the reauthorization of this act approaches, the
                                    Congress may again consider approaches for reducing the time it takes to
                                    complete a federally funded highway project so that transportation benefits
                                    are realized sooner.

                                    You requested that we report on knowledgeable officials’ views on the most
                                    promising approaches to reduce project completion time for federally
                                    funded highway projects. To carry out this work, we asked officials from
                                    various federal and state agencies with responsibilities relating to the
                                    construction of federally funded roads, transportation engineering
                                    organizations, transportation professional associations, historic
                                    preservation organizations, environmental organizations, and tribal
                                    organizations to identify the most promising approaches for reducing
                                    project completion time by a substantial amount for federally funded
                                    highway projects of all types and complexities. We asked these officials to
                                    identify other stakeholders with expertise and asked those individuals also
                                    to identify promising approaches. Overall, 42 stakeholders identified 49
                                    approaches. We then asked these officials to rate each approach on its



                                    Page 1                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                   potential for reducing project completion time. Thirty-three officials
                   representing different interests provided these ratings. The approach we
                   used makes two contributions. First, it captures the views of a wide range
                   of stakeholders that are identified by their peers as knowledgeable.
                   Second, it provides a systematic assessment of the perceived value of all
                   approaches involving all aspects of completing federally funded highway
                   projects that were identified by knowledgeable stakeholders. We did not
                   attempt to corroborate the need to implement these approaches or the
                   reasons why respondents rated individual approaches as they did. In
                   addition, we did not attempt to determine how effective the promising
                   approaches, where already implemented, were in reducing highway project
                   completion time. (See app. I for additional details on our scope and
                   methodology.)



Results in Brief   Respondents from 33 organizations representing a wide range of federal,
                   state, tribal, and advocacy interests generally rated 13 approaches of the 49
                   that they identified as most promising for reducing the time it takes to plan,
                   gain approval for, design, and build a federally funded highway project.
                   (See table 1.) These approaches fell into three key areas: (1) improving
                   project management, (2) delegating environmental review and permitting
                   authority, and (3) improving agency staffing and skills. One of these
                   approaches, establishing early partnerships and coordination among
                   stakeholders so that technical, environmental, policy, and other issues can
                   be resolved in a timely and predictable manner, was strongly supported by
                   28 of 31 (90 percent) respondents.1 Other approaches, although viewed as
                   promising by respondents overall, received less widespread support across
                   different groups of stakeholders that we contacted. Some state
                   departments of transportation are employing some of these approaches.
                   For example, according to FHWA, 34 states have agreements in which state
                   departments of transportation provide funding for personnel at state and
                   federal environmental agencies for expediting reviews. For the most part,
                   respondents were not able to estimate how much time adopting one or
                   more of these approaches might save. The respondents also acknowledged
                   that the usefulness of these approaches could vary by the type of project or
                   community values. For example, for projects that are not complex or
                   contentious, these approaches would not necessarily save the same
                   amount of time that they would for projects with complex characteristics


                   1
                   Two of the 33 respondents did not provide a rating for this approach.




                   Page 2                             GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                               or disagreement among stakeholders. We are making a recommendation to
                                               the Department of Transportation to foster more widespread use of the 13
                                               most promising approaches, where appropriate. While it did not directly
                                               comment on our proposed recommendation, the department generally
                                               agreed that the 13 most promising approaches discussed in our draft report
                                               represent opportunities to reduce project completion time.



Table 1: Most Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway Project Completion Time, as Identified by Stakeholders

Key area           Approach
Improving project Establish early partnerships and coordination - Involve stakeholders early so that technical, environmental, policy,
management        and other issues can be resolved in a timely and predictable manner.
                   Revise section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act - For projects on public lands, use the protections found in
                   section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 for consideration of historic properties and other historic
                   resources.
                   Use geographic information systems - Use the data collected by federal and state resource agencies on the location
                   of historic properties and environmental resources in the state to identify environmental and historic issues early
                   during environmental review.
                   Establish time frames for resource agency review - Provide specific time frames for resource agencies to respond to
                   environmental documents and produce any needed analyses. Reduce the 6-year time frame for lawsuits filed under
                   the National Environmental Policy Act.
                   Prepare preliminary environmental assessment reports - Provide information on any conditions and constraints prior
                   to programming project cost and project schedule.
                   Establish project milestones and performance monitoring systems - Specify key dates, such as when final design
                   must be completed, and manage the project to meet the dates.
                   Employ context sensitive design - Design projects that consider the community’s environmental and social context so
                   that projects are consistent with the values of the community.
                   Hold public information meetings early - Hold public meetings early and more often to provide information on projects
                   that are planned or underway.
Delegating review Use programmatic agreements – Use agreements between transportation and resource agencies at the federal
and permitting    and/or state level to address commonly occurring issues.
authority         Unify Clean Water Act section 404 and National Environmental Policy Act reviews - Unify reviews so that section 404
                  wetlands reviews are addressed concurrently with other environmental issues.
                   Employ wetlands banking - Use agreements between state departments of transportation and wetlands permitting
                   agencies to create large areas of wetlands in designated areas rather than addressing effects on small wetlands at
                   each construction site.
Improving agency Use interagency funding agreements - State departments of transportation provide funding for staff at federal or state
staffing and skills resource agencies to ensure timely attention to environmental issues.
                   Provide training - Determine the skills available at state transportation departments in relation to federal and state
                   requirements to complete each phase of highway projects and establish training programs for shortfalls.
Source: GAO.




                                               Page 3                               GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Background   Officials in federal transportation and environmental agencies, state
             transportation agencies, and other stakeholder organizations (such as
             environmental organizations) generally agree that constructing a new
             federally funded highway is complicated and time consuming.2 According
             to FHWA, constructing a new, major federally funded highway project that
             has significant environmental impacts typically takes from 9 to 19 years to
             plan, design, gain approval for, and complete construction. Projects take
             this long to complete because there can be as many as 200 major steps
             requiring actions, approvals or input from a number of federal, state, and
             other stakeholders. Projects with significant environmental impacts also
             face high levels of controversy that often results in a lack of sustained
             support from stakeholders. Federally funded highway projects are typically
             completed in four phases:

             • Planning: State and local planning organizations and state departments
               of transportation assess a project’s purpose and need and consider its
               need in relation to other potential highway projects.

             • Preliminary design and environmental review: State departments of
               transportation identify project cost, level of service, and construction
               location; identify the effect, if any, of the proposed project and
               alternatives on the environment; and select the preferred alternative.

             • Final design and right-of-way acquisition: State departments of
               transportation finalize design plans, acquire property, and relocate
               utilities.

             • Construction: State departments of transportation award construction
               contracts, oversee construction, and accept the completed project.

             The time required varies with the size of the project, its complexity, and the
             public interest in the project, but officials in federal and state agencies and
             other stakeholder organizations agree that delivering larger, more complex
             projects may take longer than is typical for most highway projects. In
             addition to needing more time because of their size and complexity, these


             2
              U.S. General Accounting Office, Highway Infrastructure: Preliminary Information on
             the Timely Completion of Highway Construction Projects, GAO-02-1067T (Washington,
             D.C.: Sept. 19, 2002).




             Page 4                           GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
projects often take longer to complete because they must comply with
more federal and state requirements and because of the public concern
over environmental impacts they may generate.

FHWA provides financial assistance to states to build and improve
highways and roads; establishes requirements related to planning, design,
environmental review, and construction; and provides transportation
engineering services (such as planning and design) for federally owned
highways and bridges. For fiscal year 2003, FHWA expects to fund about
$20 billion in highway infrastructure improvements and congestion
mitigations. The responsibility for designing, planning, and awarding
contracts for federally funded highway projects generally rests with state
departments of transportation and local planning organizations.

Before a federally funded highway project can be built, it must comply with
the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA),
among other things. Under the act, the consequences, if any, of proposed
transportation projects and alternative choices (such as alternative
routings) on the natural and human (e.g., health) environment and on
historic properties must be identified and assessed. For a federally funded
highway project that will have a significant impact on the environment, the
state department of transportation prepares an environmental impact
statement, which FHWA must approve before the project can be built. The
environmental impact statement must describe the project, characterize
the surrounding environment, analyze the environmental effects of a range
of reasonable project alternatives, and indicate plans for complying with
environmental laws and mitigating environmental damage, if any. Other
federal agencies (called resource agencies), such as the Army Corps of
Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency,
and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, participate in the
preparation and review of the environmental impact statements for
highway projects because of their responsibilities under federal laws.
These laws include section 404 of the Clean Water Act, section 4(f) of the
Department of Transportation Act, and section 106 of the National Historic




Page 5                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Preservation Act.3 According to FHWA, only about 3 percent of all highway
projects (accounting for about 9 percent of the funds) that received federal
funding in 2001 had a significant enough impact on the environment to
require preparation of an environmental impact statement.

Factors throughout the duration of a highway project can extend
completion time; however, much attention has been given to the
environmental requirements and their effect on timely completion.
Concerned about how long highway projects take, the Congress included
provisions in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century to
streamline environmental reviews. These provisions require FHWA to
identify and work with federal agencies that have environmental and
historic preservation jurisdiction over highway projects to cooperatively
establish realistic project development time frames among the agencies
and to work with the agencies to adhere to those time frames. Because
transportation projects are also affected by state and local environmental
requirements, the act allows individual states to participate in these
streamlining approaches, as long as all affected states’ agencies participate.
Finally, the act also allows FHWA to approve state requests to use their
federal-aid highway funds to provide additional environmental personnel
dedicated to conducting environmental reviews of transportation projects
in order to meet time limits established by the act.



3
 Any transportation project that involves discharge of dredged or fill material to navigable
waters, including certain wetlands, requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers
under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The permit review may require mitigation of
project impacts through specific measures to minimize or avoid damage to wetlands and
compensate for unavoidable impacts.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act applies to project use of publicly
owned land of a public park, recreation areas or wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or public or
private land of an historic site of national, state, or local significance (as determined by the
federal, state, or local officials having jurisdiction over the park, recreation areas refuge, or
site). Property for which section 4(f) is applicable can be approved for use of a
transportation program or project only if there is no prudent and feasible alternative to
using that land, and the program or project includes all possible planning to minimize harm
to the park, recreation area, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, or historic site resulting from the
use.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to
take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment. Historic
properties are properties that are included in the National Register of Historic Places or that
meet the criteria for the National Register.




Page 6                                GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Most Promising          Knowledgeable officials from 33 organizations representing a wide range of
                        interests and responsibilities for the planning, design, environmental
Approaches Identified   review, and construction of federally funded highways generally identified
by Stakeholders Focus   13 approaches from the 49 promising approaches they identified as most
                        promising for reducing the time it takes to complete a federally funded
on Improving Project    highway project. (See table 2 for how respondents rated the 13 most
Management              promising approaches. A more detailed discussion of the 13 approaches
                        follows table 2. Table 6 in app. II describes the 49 approaches identified and
                        the degree to which respondents told us each had potential for reducing
                        highway project completion time.) One of the 13 approaches, establishing
                        early partnerships and coordination among stakeholders so that technical,
                        environmental, policy, and other issues can be resolved in a timely and
                        predictable manner, was strongly supported by nearly all respondents.
                        Other approaches, although viewed as promising by respondents overall,
                        had less widespread support across different groups of stakeholders. Some
                        state departments of transportation are already employing some of the 13
                        approaches, such as funding specialized staff, including biologists and
                        historic preservation specialists, at federal and state resource agencies to
                        assist with environmental reviews. For the most part, respondents were not
                        able to estimate how much time adopting one or more of these 13
                        approaches might save.




                        Page 7                        GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Table 2: Percent of Respondents Rating the 13 Most Promising Approaches Highly, Including Average Rating

                                                                                                                      Percent of
                                                                                                                    respondents
                                                                                                                rating approach          Average
Nature of approach Approach                                                                                              highlya          ratingb
Improving project     Establish early partnerships and coordination                                                             90              4.5
management            Revise section 4(f)                                                                                       70              4.0
                      Use geographic information systems                                                                        63              3.5
                      Establish time frames for environmental reviews                                                           60              3.6
                      Prepare preliminary environmental assessment reports                                                      53              3.6
                      Establish project milestones and performance monitoring systems                                           52              3.6
                      Employ context sensitive design                                                                           50              3.5
                      Hold public information meetings early                                                                    50              3.5
Delegating review     Use programmatic agreements                                                                               68              4.0
and permitting        Unify Clean Water Act section 404 and NEPA reviews                                                        58              3.7
authority
                      Employ wetlands banking                                                                                   46              3.5
Improving agency      Use interagency funding agreements                                                                        59              3.6
staffing and skills   Provide training                                                                                          53              3.7
Source: GAO.
                                              a
                                               Percent of all respondents ranking the approach as either having great or very great potential to
                                              reduce highway project completion time. Not all respondents rated each approach. Thirty or more of
                                              the 33 respondents (at least 91 percent) rated 11 of 13 approaches; 26 respondents (79 percent) rated
                                              the remaining 2 approaches. (See app. II.)
                                              b
                                               The 13 most promising approaches were those with a rating of 3.5 or more on a 5-point scale, where
                                              a rating of 3 represented a moderate potential for reducing completion times and ratings of 4 and 5
                                              represented great and very great potential for reducing project completion time, respectively. (See
                                              app. I.)


                                              Most of the approaches (8 of 13) rated by our respondents as most
                                              promising fell into the category of strategies to improve project
                                              management, focusing primarily on state-level activities. Respondents also
                                              supported delegation of review and permitting authority (3 of 13
                                              approaches, including the second and fourth highest rated approaches in
                                              terms of average rating); and identifying improvements in agency staffing
                                              and skills (2 of 13 approaches). None of the approaches in other broad
                                              areas identified by respondents as promising—alternatives to current
                                              construction contracting practices and improvements in disseminating
                                              information—were among the top 13. Furthermore, our results indicated
                                              that 9 of the 13 promising approaches (about 70 percent) were related
                                              solely to the planning and environmental review phases of a highway




                                              Page 8                                 GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
project; the remaining 4 approaches offered opportunities for improved
performance throughout the entire life of a project.

As can be expected, the level of support for each of these approaches
varied within similar organizations, such as state departments of
transportation. (See table 7 in app. II.) However, at least half of those
charged primarily with funding and constructing highways (federal and
state departments of transportation and organizations representing
highway interests) as well as those organizations whose primary
responsibilities or interests focus on resource issues (e.g., federal resource
agencies and associations representing environmental interests) rated 6 of
the 13 approaches (46 percent) as most promising.

While our results also showed a pattern that agencies and other
organizations with primary responsibilities for or interests in building and
funding highways ranked certain approaches higher than did agencies and
associations with a primary focus on resource issues, and vice versa, most
of the 13 most promising approaches had widespread support across
organizations. (See table 3.) Regarding differences in rating, four
approaches—metropolitan capacity building, acculturation, travel model
improvement, and state funding of historic preservation activities—were
rated highly by respondents with primary responsibilities for or interests
involving resources and were rated significantly lower by respondents with
primary responsibilities for or interests in funding or constructing a
highway project.4 This can be explained, in part, by the fact that
organizations we contacted identified roughly twice as many
knowledgeable persons at organizations with primary responsibilities or
interests in funding or constructing a highway project as they did for
organizations with primary responsibilities for or interests involving
resources, and the former group’s views outweighed the latter group’s
views. Despite these differences, 8 of the 13 most promising approaches
overall were in each group’s “top 13” approaches.




4
 Acculturation, in part, is working to achieve recognition by transportation staff of the
inherent benefits of environmentally sound projects and vice versa. See table 6 in app. II for
a description of these approaches.




Page 9                               GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Table 3: Comparison of Rankings of 34 Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time by Transportation and
Resource Respondents

                                                    Ranking among          Ranking among
                                                        agencies or            agencies or              Number of              Number of
                                                       associations           associations           respondents            respondents
                                                  primarily affiliated   primarily affiliated   primarily affiliated   primarily affiliated
                                                       with funding,        with natural or          with funding,        with natural or
                                                       managing, or                 historic         managing, or                 historic
                                                       constructing          environmental           constructing          environmental
Approach                                           highway projects                  issues      highway projects                  issues
Early partnership and coordination                                  1                      1                     20                     11
Revise section 4(f)                                                 2                     16                     20                     10
Establish time frames for NEPA process                              3                     28                     20                     10
Programmatic agreements                                             4                      9                     20                     11
Establish project milestones and
performance monitoring systems                                      5                     20                     20                     11
Unify Clean Water Act section 404 and
NEPA processes                                                      6                     25                     20                      6
Formal elevation process                                            7                     23                     20                     12
Wetlands banking                                                    8                     29                     20                      6
Training                                                            9                      8                     20                     12
Geographic information systems                                     10                      3                     20                     12
Preliminary environmental assessment
reports                                                            11                      6                     20                     12
Interagency funding agreements                                     12                      4                     20                     12
Allow early right-of-way acquisition                               13                     31                     19                     10
Public information meetings                                        14                      7                     20                     12
Partner with groups                                                15                     14                     19                     12
Biennial reviews                                                   16                     27                     18                     11
Context sensitive design                                           17                      2                     20                     12
Hire consultants or contractors                                    18                     34                     19                      8
Internet                                                           19                     11                     20                     12
National conferences                                               20                     21                     20                     11
Single agency point of contact                                     21                     33                     20                     10
Acculturation                                                      22                      5                     19                     12
Environmental compliance mitigation systems                        23                     15                     20                     12
Metropolitan capacity building                                     24                     13                     18                      8
Environmental information center                                   25                     18                     20                     11
Aerial surveying and imaging technology                            26                     19                     18                     10
Videotaped guidance on promising
approaches                                                         27                     22                     20                     11



                                              Page 10                             GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                           Ranking among             Ranking among
                                                               agencies or               agencies or                  Number of                  Number of
                                                              associations              associations               respondents                respondents
                                                         primarily affiliated      primarily affiliated       primarily affiliated       primarily affiliated
                                                              with funding,           with natural or              with funding,            with natural or
                                                              managing, or                    historic             managing, or                     historic
                                                              constructing             environmental               constructing              environmental
Approach                                                  highway projects                     issues          highway projects                      issues
State funding of historic preservation activities                            28                         10                         19                        11
Professional organization membership                                          29                        30                         19                        10
Regular publications                                                          30                        17                         20                        12
Awards program to recognize agency
achievements                                                                  31                        26                         19                        11
Infer the presence of endangered species                                      32                        24                         20                         9
Peer reviews                                                                  33                        32                         20                        10
Travel model improvement                                                      34                        12                         19                         9
Source: GAO.

                                                    Notes: In all, respondents identified 49 promising approaches. This table includes the 34 approaches
                                                    where 75 percent or more of the respondents rated an approach. See app. I for a discussion of our
                                                    methodology and table 6 in app. II for a description of the remaining 15 approaches.
                                                    Approaches in bold are the 13 approaches that respondents rated most highly overall.
                                                    The table is ordered from most popular to least popular among respondents with primary
                                                    responsibilities for or interests in funding or constructing a highway project, to better show similarities
                                                    and differences in rating.


                                                    The respondents acknowledged that these approaches might not work for
                                                    every project or in every state because projects and communities vary
                                                    widely. For example, projects that are not complex or contentious would
                                                    not necessarily achieve the time savings that these approaches afford for
                                                    projects with complex characteristics or disagreement among
                                                    stakeholders.



Strategies to Improve                               Among the 13 most promising approaches, 8 focused on improving project
Project Management                                  management at the state level. About half of these approaches were
                                                    directed at undertaking activities earlier than usual. One promising
                                                    approach—establishing early partnerships and coordination—stood out.

                                                    Establishing early partnerships and coordination. Ninety percent of
                                                    the respondents rated establishing early partnerships and early
                                                    coordination as highly important to reducing the time needed to complete a
                                                    highway project. This approach addressed the commonly voiced concern
                                                    that projects are halted late during environmental review because



                                                    Page 11                                   GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
previously unrecognized environmental impacts are brought to light.
Respondents overwhelmingly told us that early identification of these
issues and concerted efforts to address them sooner rather than later was
the most promising approach for reducing the time it takes to complete a
federally funded highway project. Support for this approach was generally
unified across respondent affiliations, with 85 percent of those with
primary responsibilities for or interests in funding or constructing a
highway project and all of those with primary responsibilities for or
interests involving resources rating it highly.

Adding flexibility to historic property reviews by revising section
4(f). About 70 percent of the respondents told us that adding flexibility to
reviews of the potential impacts of proposed highway projects on historic
properties and sites would either greatly or very greatly improve states’
abilities to manage their highway projects. Historic properties are
protected under two laws that are often viewed by stakeholders as
duplicative and adding time to project completion: section 4(f) of the
Department of Transportation Act and section 106 of the National Historic
Preservation Act of 1966. Section 4(f) legislation prohibits the Department
of Transportation from approving any highway project that uses, among
other things, land of an historic site of national, state, or local significance
unless it finds that (1) there is no prudent and feasible alternative that
avoids such resources or causes less harm to them and (2) the project
includes all possible planning to minimize harm to those resources. Section
106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires that projects
that include federal participation consider the effects on any properties
included in, or eligible for inclusion in, the National Register of Historic
Places. Section 106 establishes a flexible consultive process that brings all
parties into discussion, and was cited by some respondents as allowing for
more productive outcomes that preserve the goals of the transportation
project while creating meaningful protections of historic properties. Those
advocating change wanted section 4(f) requirements to offer the flexibility
of section 106 requirements. There was less agreement on the efficacy of
this approach between those with a primary responsibility for or interest in
funding or constructing highways (80 percent viewed this approach highly)
and those whose primary responsibilities or interests rest with resources
(50 percent viewed this approach highly). In some part, this lack of
consensus reflected the differing views of whether legislative changes are
needed to implement this approach or whether it could be accomplished
administratively. For example, the American Association of State Highway
and Transportation Officials has established a historic preservation work
group to discuss and possibly seek solutions for section 4(f)



Page 12                        GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
implementation, such as whether the requirements of section 4(f) could be
considered as met if all parties sign a memorandum of agreement under
section 106.

Use of geographic information systems data. Overall, 63 percent of the
knowledgeable officials indicated that the use of geographic information
systems data on the locations of historic property and environmental
resources in the state had great or very great potential to reduce highway
project completion time. Project duration can be extended when states are
unable to accurately identify environmental resources or historic
properties at the outset of environmental review when alternative road
alignments are initially developed. Without this information, a preferred
alternative may be selected, only to discover later that environmental
resources or historic properties lie within the project alignment, delaying
the project as impacts on the newly discovered resource are assessed. To
address this dilemma, state transportation agencies and resource agencies
increasingly use geographic information systems databases. According to
respondents, by consulting these databases early during environmental
review, transportation agencies can determine which project alignments
would likely minimize any adverse impacts to natural or historic
environmental areas. In addition, respondents indicated that using these
databases would support integrated interagency reviews of a project’s
impact on the environment. Half of those with primary responsibilities for
or interests in funding or constructing a highway project and 83 percent of
those with primary responsibilities for or interests involving resources
rated this approach highly.

Establishing deadlines for resource agency reviews. The majority of
respondents also told us that projects could be managed better if more
predictability existed in how long reviews to determine the level of impacts
that proposed highway projects have on environmental and historic
properties could be expected to take. In this vein, about 60 percent of the
respondents highly supported establishing by law specific deadlines for
resource agencies to provide their assessments of how a proposed highway
project affects the environment or historic places. Some commented that
resource agencies have no requirement for providing timely comments and
feedback during creation of draft or final environmental impact statements,
without which FHWA cannot allow a project to proceed. In addition,
lawsuits challenging these FHWA decisions under NEPA can be filed for up
to 6 years after FHWA has approved funding for the project after
environmental review. Officials told us that lawsuits to challenge projects
that are filed after the project has been put out to bid resulted in substantial



Page 13                        GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
lost time and increased costs for state departments of transportation.
According to these officials, establishing a shorter statute of limitations
than the current 6 years for lawsuits to be filed would fully preserve
citizens’ rights to bring legal challenge while also achieving closure more
quickly on any disputed issues. However, there was little consensus on this
approach: 80 percent of those with primary responsibilities for or interests
in funding or constructing a highway project rated this approach highly, but
only 20 percent of those with primary responsibilities for or interests
involving resources did so.

Preparing preliminary environmental assessment reports. About half
of all respondents rated the idea of preparing preliminary environmental
assessment reports highly. As discussed previously, state highway
departments must assess the proposed project’s impacts on the
environment, if any. Respondents told us that obtaining information about
a project’s potential environmental impacts early, such as during the
planning phase, could help transportation officials identify issues sooner
and help move toward resolution earlier, thus saving time. Similar to
establishing and utilizing geographic information systems databases,
respondents explained that conducting field visits to the planned project
sites, conducting literature searches, and documenting a proposed project
site through photographs could help identify any environmental issues
early. Slightly less than half of those with primary responsibilities or
interests in funding or constructing a highway project (45 percent) and
about two-thirds of those with primary responsibilities or interests
involving resources (67 percent) rated this approach highly.




Page 14                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Establishing project milestones and performance monitoring
systems. About half of the knowledgeable officials rated highly the
concept of establishing project milestones and performance monitoring
systems to help state transportation officials manage projects. Project
milestones establish goals and expectations for as many as 200 major steps
needed to plan, design, gain approval for, and construct a federally funded
highway project. Performance monitoring allows state departments of
transportation to determine whether goals are being achieved and take
corrective action, if needed. Respondents indicated that off-the-shelf
project scheduling software could meet this need. Finally, state
transportation agencies do not typically capture information centrally on
time spent on various aspects of their highway projects. Such information
could be useful in managing the agencies’ overall performance and help to
identify opportunities for improvement.5 This approach was rated highly
more often by those with primary responsibilities for or interest in funding
or constructing a highway project (60 percent) than those with primary
responsibilities or interests involving resources (36 percent).

Use of context sensitive design. Fifty percent of the respondents
indicated that the use of context sensitive design has great or very great
potential to reduce highway project completion time. In context sensitive
design, engineering is driven by the needs of the community and the
environment as well as by technical considerations. Context sensitive
design goes beyond the early partnership and coordination approach
discussed above to plan a project that not only meets transportation needs
but also meets the underlying values of the community, such as strong
attachment to certain historic or environmental resources. This requires an
approach that involves all stakeholders, seeks to develop a highway project
that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and
environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility. About one-
third (30 percent) of those with primary responsibilities for or interests in
funding or constructing a highway project rated this approach highly. In
contrast, 83 percent of those with primary responsibilities for or interests
involving resources rated this approach highly.




5
GAO-02-1067T.




Page 15                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                           Holding earlier, more frequent public meetings. About half of the
                           respondents viewed earlier and/or more frequent public meetings as highly
                           useful in reducing the time to complete highway projects. Respondents
                           explained that public comments were sometimes not solicited until the
                           state department of transportation had already identified a preferred
                           alternative, rather than allowing for meaningful public input to address
                           community concerns at the outset of developing suitable alternatives.6
                           Public information meetings allow transportation agencies to present
                           information to the public on projects that are planned or underway and to
                           obtain informal comments from community residents. Such meetings can
                           help project sponsors understand the views of the community while
                           communicating the project’s purpose and possible impacts. At the same
                           time, early opportunities for and incorporation of comments provides the
                           community buy-in as the department of transportation addresses their
                           concerns. About 40 percent of those with primary responsibilities for or
                           interests in funding or constructing a highway project rated this approach
                           highly, while two-thirds of those with primary responsibilities for or
                           interests involving resources rated this approach highly.



Delegation of Review and   A second set of promising approaches generally involved routinizing
Permitting Authority       decisions on commonly occurring issues. According to FHWA, over 90
                           percent of highway projects are routine activities that do not impose
                           extensive environmental impacts nor require substantial review. However,
                           these routine activities may undergo lengthy or duplicative reviews that
                           respondents noted as potentially slowing project completion.

                           Using programmatic agreements. Using programmatic agreements
                           between federal and/or state transportation and resource agencies to
                           address commonly occurring issues received the second highest rating
                           from respondents on average of the 13 most promising approaches. Sixty-
                           eight percent of the respondents indicated that programmatic agreements
                           to handle routine projects or commonly occurring resource effects (e.g.,
                           endangered species) or to delegate review authority from resource
                           agencies to transportation agencies have great or very great potential to
                           reduce project completion time. This approach was rated highly by 70
                           percent of those respondents with primary responsibilities for or interests


                           6
                            FHWA requires that, during statewide transportation planning, state officials proactively
                           provide the public with complete information, timely public notice, full public access to
                           decisions, and opportunities for early and continuing involvement.




                           Page 16                             GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
in funding or constructing a highway project. Moreover, nearly two-thirds
of the respondents with primary responsibilities for or interests involving
resources rated the approach highly.

Unifying section 404 and other environmental requirements. Fifty-
eight percent of the respondents rated highly the idea of unifying the
requirements of section 404 of the Clean Water Act with other
environmental review requirements. Traditionally, FHWA and the states
completed environmental reviews of the proposed highway project before
approaching the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit involving a wetland
under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Yet, even after FHWA had issued
its record of decision on environmental issues allowing the project to move
forward, a project might fail to obtain the needed permits from the Corps
and therefore be halted despite having cleared an extensive environmental
review. Officials told us that by effectively integrating the two processes,
approval of the section 404 permit could be concurrent with FHWA’s final
action, resulting in reduced project completion time, more environmentally
sound projects, and increased relationship building. Knowledgeable
officials suggested that this approach could occur through merger
agreements or through changes in legislation. Sixty percent of the
respondents with primary responsibilities for or interests in funding or
constructing a highway project and 50 percent of respondents with primary
responsibilities for or interests involving resources rated the approach
highly. According to FHWA, 29 states have adopted agreements to unify
NEPA environmental reviews and section 404 Clean Water Act permit
reviews to ensure that the reviews are conducted concurrently.

Wetlands banking. Slightly less than half (46 percent) of the respondents
rated the concept of wetlands banking highly. As required under section
404 of the Clean Water Act, transportation agencies must compensate for
any wetlands that are disturbed by highway projects, as determined by the
Army Corps of Engineers and state environmental agencies. Transportation
agencies address these wetlands impacts by creating new wetlands areas
near the highway project site. The problem cited by some is that this
approach to wetlands is piecemeal rather than comprehensive. According
to respondents, these efforts can add significant time to highway projects,
especially if the wetlands are not detected until late in the project. Under
wetlands banking, state departments of transportation and wetland
permitting agencies enter into blanket agreements to create large areas of
wetlands rather than small wetlands at each construction site. While saving
time on project completion, proponents state that wetlands banking can
also provide more wildlife habitat and more ecologically significant



Page 17                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                            restoration and enhancement in larger areas. Fifty percent of the
                            respondents with primary responsibilities for or interests in funding or
                            constructing a highway project and 33 percent of the respondents with
                            primary responsibilities or interests involving resources rated this
                            approach highly.



Improving Agency Staffing   Two of the 13 most promising approaches involved improving staffing
and Skills                  through interagency funding agreements and increased training as a means
                            for reducing highway project completion time.

                            Using interagency funding agreements. About 60 percent of the
                            respondents rated highly the use of interagency funding agreements to
                            provide staff at resource agencies. As noted above, some believe that
                            resource agencies do not always provide needed feedback to FHWA or
                            departments of transportation on the environmental effects of proposed
                            highway projects in a timely manner. Various reasons for this were cited,
                            but both respondents with responsibilities for or interests in funding or
                            constructing a highway and respondents with responsibilities or interests
                            involving resources noted that staff shortages at resource agencies were a
                            significant reason for this problem. As a result, state departments of
                            transportation have increasingly used federal funds authorized under
                            section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century to pay for
                            technical staff positions at resource agencies, including biologists and
                            historic preservation specialists. According to FHWA, 34 states have
                            agreements that provide state and federal environmental agency personnel
                            for expediting reviews. The hired personnel devote their attention solely to
                            proposed federally funded highway projects, thus potentially improving the
                            timeliness of resource agency assessments of any environmental issues
                            associated with these projects. Slightly less than one-half of those with
                            responsibilities or interests in funding or constructing a highway project
                            (45 percent) rated this approach highly; however, over four-fifths of those
                            with responsibilities or interests involving resources (83 percent) did so.

                            Increased training. Finally, about half of the respondents supported
                            increased training for state department of transportation officials regarding
                            understanding the requirements associated with completing a highway
                            project.7 About 50 percent of those with primary responsibilities for or

                            7
                             We did not ask the respondents to identify specific areas where training would be
                            beneficial.




                            Page 18                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                      interests in funding or constructing a highway project and 58 percent of
                      those with primary responsibilities or interests in involving resources rated
                      this approach highly.



Conclusions           Our results showed, overall, strong stakeholder support for 13 approaches
                      to reduce the time it takes to complete a federally funded highway project.
                      While stakeholders’ support varied, 8 of these approaches had strong
                      support across groups representing different primary interests. We
                      recognize that it may be neither feasible nor appropriate to utilize each of
                      these 13 approaches on every federally funded highway project. In
                      addition, some of these approaches, such as interagency funding
                      agreements, are already being utilized at the state level and still others may
                      require congressional action. Nonetheless, they do represent a reasonable
                      number of actions that can be considered further as to the benefits, in
                      relation to the costs, that they bring to reducing highway project
                      completion time. FHWA would need to work with other lead agencies to
                      assess how these actions would be implemented, including whether any
                      legislative changes would be required. Such assessments could lead to
                      more widespread adoption and corresponding increased transportation
                      and environmental benefits.



Recommendation for    In order to reduce highway project completion time, we recommend that
                      the Secretary of Transportation direct the Administrator, FHWA, to
Executive Action      consider the benefits of at least each of the 13 most promising approaches
                      discussed in this report relative to the costs and feasibility of implementing
                      them and take the actions needed to foster more widespread adoption of
                      those approaches that appear to be the most cost effective.



Agency Comments and   We obtained oral comments on a draft of this report from the Department
                      of Transportation. Generally, the Department agreed that the 13 most
Our Evaluation        promising approaches discussed in our draft report represent opportunities
                      to reduce project completion time. While it did not directly comment on
                      our proposed recommendation, the Department noted that most, if not all,
                      of the promising approaches coincide with the streamlining activities that
                      the Department and its partners, such as state departments of
                      transportation and resource agencies, have been developing and
                      implementing under section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the
                      21st Century.



                      Page 19                       GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the
date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies of this report to
congressional committees with responsibilities for highway issues; the
Secretary of Transportation; the Administrator, Federal Highway
Administration; and the Director, Office of Management and Budget. We
will also make copies available to others upon request. In addition, this
report will be available at no charge on our home page at
http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
either James Ratzenberger at ratzenbergerj@gao.gov or me at
siggerudk@gao.gov. Alternatively, we may be reached at (202) 512-2834.
Key contributors to this report were Jennifer Clayborne, Kenya Jones,
SaraAnn Moessbauer, James Ratzenberger, Deena Richart, and Matthew
Zisman.

Sincerely yours,




Katherine Siggerud
Acting Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues




Page 20                        GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Appendix I

Scope and Methodology                                                                       AA
                                                                                             ppp
                                                                                               ep
                                                                                                ned
                                                                                                  n
                                                                                                  x
                                                                                                  id
                                                                                                   e
                                                                                                   x
                                                                                                   Iis




             To perform our work, we reviewed laws and regulations governing the
             construction of federally funded highway projects. We discussed these
             requirements, the time required to complete projects, and initiatives to
             reduce this time with officials from the Federal Highway Administration
             (FHWA), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Environmental
             Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Fish
             and Wildlife Service, the American Association of State Highway and
             Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders
             Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, private
             transportation engineering firms, and others. We also interviewed officials
             from California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and
             Wisconsin departments of transportation about highway project
             completion time and initiatives to reduce the completion times of these
             projects. We chose these states either because they spent the most federal-
             aid highway funds or because officials we interviewed identified these
             states as making efforts to reduce project time. We also reviewed federal
             and private studies on highway project completion.

             To determine transportation stakeholders’ views on the most promising
             approaches to substantially reduce project completion time for federally
             funded highway projects, we reached out to 62 organizations with a role or
             interest in highway project completion. (See table 4.) Of these
             organizations, officials from 42 organizations agreed to participate in
             structured interviews, including federal and state agencies with
             responsibilities relating to the construction of federally funded roads,
             transportation engineering organizations, transportation professional
             associations, historic preservation organizations, environmental
             organizations, tribal organizations and a university. To identify the 62
             organizations, we initially contacted agencies and organizations that have
             primary responsibility for highway project completion or that have been
             vocal on the issue. We asked these officials to identify, for subsequent
             interviews, other agencies or organizations undertaking or knowledgeable
             about promising approaches for substantially reducing highway project
             completion time. We continued to ask for names from the subsequent
             organizations until no new names were identified.




             Page 21                      GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                              Appendix I
                                              Scope and Methodology




Table 4: Organizations Contacted to Determine Most Promising Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time

Organization
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
American Concrete and Pavement Association
American Council of Engineering Companies
American Highway Users Alliance
American Public Transportation Association
American Road & Transportation Builders Association
American Society of Civil Engineers
Association of General Contractors
California Department of Transportation
Center for Transportation and the Environment (North Carolina State University)
Construction Industry Institute
Defenders of Wildlife
Delaware Department of Transportation
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Council of the States
Environmental Defense
Federal Highway Administration – Historic Preservation
Federal Highway Administration – Infrastructure
Federal Highway Administration – Planning
Federal Highway Administration – Right-of-Way
Federal Highway Administration – Technical Modeling
Florida Department of Transportation, State Highway Engineer's Office
Georgia Department of Transportation, Office of Environment/Location
Georgia Department of Transportation, Transportation Planning, Data and Intermodal Development Division
Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Regional Transportation Authority
HDR, Inc.
Institute of Transportation Engineers
Kentucky Heritage Council
Lafayette, Louisiana Metropolitan Planning Organization
Maryland State Highway Administration, Enhancement Program
Maryland State Highway Administration, Project Planning Division
Minnesota Department of Transportation
National Association of Development Organizations




                                              Page 22                             GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                                Appendix I
                                                Scope and Methodology




(Continued From Previous Page)
Organization
National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers
National Coalition to Defend NEPA
National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers
National Trust for Historic Preservation
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Navajo Nation, Historic Preservation Department
New Hampshire Department of Transportation
New Jersey Department of Transportation, Quality Management Services
North Carolina Department of Transportation, Division of Highways (Pre-construction) and Planning and Environment Unit
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Engineering District 10
Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission
San Diego Association of Governments
Sierra Club
Smart Growth America
South Carolina Department of Transportation
Surface Transportation Policy Project
Transportation Development Institute
Texas A&M University
Tribal Preservation Programs of the National Park Service
University of Utah
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Wilmington, NC District
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Vermont Division for Historic Preservation
Washington Department of Transportation
Source: GAO.


                                                Using a structured interview, we asked knowledgeable officials at each of
                                                the 42 organizations to provide information about the most promising
                                                approaches for substantially reducing completion time for projects of all
                                                types and complexities and in each project phase (i.e., planning,
                                                preliminary engineering and environmental review, final design and right-
                                                of-way acquisition, and construction). We also obtained information from
                                                these contacts on opportunities to reduce project completion time through
                                                administrative changes, changes in federal or state law, improvement of
                                                staff skills, and improvements in disseminating information about



                                                Page 23                        GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                                   Appendix I
                                                   Scope and Methodology




                                                   approaches to reduce project completion time. For each approach cited as
                                                   the most promising for substantially reducing project completion time, we
                                                   asked these officials to provide information on: (1) the nature of the
                                                   approach, (2) reason(s) why the approach was taken, (3)
                                                   agencies/organizations involved with the approach, (4) size of the project,
                                                   (5) changes to federal or state law (if any) required for each approach, (6)
                                                   expected/actual benefits, and (7) methods (if any) for measuring these
                                                   benefits. (See table 5 for the structured interview questions.)



Table 5: Structured Interview Questions Used to Identify the Most Promising Approaches to Reduce Highway Project
Completion Time

1.   Please identify any initiatives your organization has taken to expedite project delivery (e.g., earlier coordination between state
     departments of transportation and environmental resource agencies; historic preservation programmatic agreements; design/build
     construction techniques). For each initiative, please provide the following information: (1) description of initiative; (2) why initiative
     was taken; (3) organizations participating in initiative; (4) type of project to which initiative applies (size, complexity); (5) project
     phase to which initiative applies; (6) whether this initiative required any changes to federal or state law; (7) expected/actual benefit of
     initiative; and (8) how benefit is measured.
2.   Please identify any further opportunities that exist to measurably reduce project delivery times through changes in federal or state
     law, while keeping basic policies (e.g., metropolitan/statewide planning; environmentally responsible projects) in place. For each
     initiative, please provide the following information: (1) law that should be changed; (2) why change is needed; (3) organizations
     affected by change in law; (4) type of project to which initiative applies (size, complexity); (5) project phase to which change in law
     applies; (6) expected benefit of change in law; and (7) how benefit would be measured.
3.   Some have commented that highway oversight is historically focused on engineering and contracting rather than oversight of
     management and financial issues. Please discuss if this is the case and if any reforms in this area are needed. Also, please identify
     any initiatives your organization has taken that address human capital reform (e.g., refocusing staff efforts from oversight of
     engineering and contract issues to management and financial issues) to improve project delivery. For each initiative, please provide
     the following information: (1) description of initiative; (2) why initiative was taken; (3) organizations participating in initiative; (4) type
     of project to which initiative applies (size, complexity); (5) project phase to which initiative applies; (6) expected/actual benefit of
     initiative; and (7) how benefit is measured.
4.   How well is information about initiatives to improve project delivery times shared among federal and state agencies? Do you have
     any suggestions to improve the current practices? Please describe how your organization shares what it has learned with others
     and how you learn about initiatives that other organizations are taking by providing the following: (1) method of
     dissemination/learning; (2) initiative to which this applies; and (3) agencies involved.
5.   Please identify any further opportunities that could be pursued to expedite transportation project delivery. Please provide the
     following information: (1) opportunity; (2) problem to be addressed; (3) organizations affected; (4) project type to which opportunity
     applies (size, complexity); (5) project phase to which opportunity applies; (6) expected benefit of opportunity; and (7) how benefit
     would be measured.
6.   Are you aware of any promising initiatives that other organizations are taking to improve highway project delivery times? If so, please
     provide the following information: (1) organization; (2) nature of initiative; (3) point of contact; (4) phone number; (5) email/web
     address.
Source: GAO.


                                                   To determine which of the identified approaches hold the most promise for
                                                   substantially reducing highway project completion time, we compiled a list




                                                   Page 24                                GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Appendix I
Scope and Methodology




of 49 approaches identified by the respondents and asked each of the 42
officials we interviewed to rate the potential of each of the approaches to
reduce project completion time on a scale of 1 to 5.1 Thirty-three officials
agreed to participate in this aspect of our work. Of those not participating,
officials declined for a variety of reasons. We compiled these ratings and
calculated an average rating for each approach where at least 75 percent of
the 33 officials provided a rating. We identified the most promising as
those with an average rating of 3.5 or higher. There were 13 approaches
with ratings of 3.5 or higher. None of the 13 most promising approaches
were rated by all 33 officials. Eleven of these 13 approaches were rated by
30 or more (91 percent) officials, while the remaining 2 approaches were
rated by 26 officials (79 percent). We did not attempt to corroborate the
need to implement these approaches or obtain details on how they might
be structured. In addition, we did not attempt to determine how effective
the promising approaches, where already implemented, were in reducing
highway project completion time.

We conducted our work from September 2002 through March 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




1
 1=little to no potential to reduce project completion time; 2=some potential to reduce
project completion time; 3=moderate potential to reduce project completion time; 4=great
potential to reduce project completion time; 5=very great potential to reduce project
completion time. Respondents could also indicate whether they did not know or had no
basis to judge.




Page 25                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
Appendix II

Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
Project Completion Time as Identified by
Respondents                                                                                                                         Appendx
                                                                                                                                          Ii




                                               Of the 34 approaches that were assessed by at least 75 percent of
                                               respondents, 19 (56 percent) were rated on average as having moderate,
                                               great, or very great potential to reduce highway project completion time.
                                               (See table 6.) The remaining 15 approaches (44 percent) were assessed as
                                               having, on average, some, little, or no potential to reduce highway project
                                               completion time. Fewer than 75 percent of the respondents provided an
                                               assessment for 15 other approaches, and we did not report on these results.



Table 6: Promising Approaches to Reduce Project Completion Time Identified and Rated by Respondents, by Average Rating

                                                                                                                           Percent of
                                                                                                                         respondents
                                                                                                                 indicating approach
                                                                                    Number of        Average        has great or very
Approach                      Description                                         respondents         ratinga         great potential
Early partnership and         All affected parties (e.g., federal government,
coordination                  state government, tribal, public) with input into
                              the project completion process (1) collaborate
                              early and throughout project planning so that
                              technical, environmental, policy, and program
                              issues can be resolved in a predictable and
                              timely manner; and (2) develop collaborative
                              work plans that are comprehensive, realistic,
                              and deliverable.                                              31            4.5                    90.3
Programmatic agreements       Use programmatic agreements (i.e., between
                              transportation and resource agencies at the
                              federal and/or state level) to review
                              environmental impact of routine projects or
                              commonly occurring resource effects (i.e.,
                              commonly encountered species, typical
                              project types) or delegation of authority (i.e.,
                              reviews from state historic preservation
                              agency to state department of transportation).                31            4.0                    67.7
Revise section 4(f) process   Use the protections found in section 106 of the
                              National Historic Preservation Act instead of
                              the protections found in section 4(f) of the
                              Department of Transportation Act for
                              consideration of historic properties and other
                              historic resources.                                           30            4.0                    70.0
Unify Clean Water Act         Unify the Clean Water Act section 404 permit
section 404 and National      and NEPA environmental review processes to
Environmental Policy Act      ensure that projects that pass the NEPA
(NEPA) processes              review process also comply with section 404.                  26            3.7                    57.7




                                               Page 26                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                               Appendix II
                                               Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                               Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                               Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                                                                                          Percent of
                                                                                                                        respondents
                                                                                                                indicating approach
                                                                                   Number of        Average        has great or very
Approach                       Description                                       respondents         ratinga         great potential
Training                       Determine agency staff skill set and establish
                               training programs to eliminate knowledge
                               shortfalls among transportation staff on
                               requirements to complete all phases of
                               highway projects. Ensure that new recruits to
                               the transportation field have orientation and
                               training for all phases of project completion.              32            3.7                    53.1
Establish time frames for      Provide specific time frames for resource
NEPA process                   agencies to respond to environmental
                               documents and produce any needed analyses.
                               Reduce the 6-year time frame for lawsuits filed
                               under NEPA.                                                 30            3.6                    60.0
Interagency funding            State departments of transportation fund
agreements                     additional staff at state or federal resource
                               agencies. Work of funded staff must have a
                               measurable impact in reducing time to
                               complete environmental reviews on
                               transportation projects.                                    32            3.6                    59.4
Preliminary environmental      Provide information on any conditions and
assessment reports             constraints early in the process, prior to
                               programming project cost and schedule.
                               Reports are based on a field visit, literature
                               search, geographic information systems, and
                               photo log review to include a work plan for the
                               subsequent environmental analysis for NEPA.                 32            3.6                    53.1
Establish project milestones   Specify key dates, such as when final design
and performance monitoring     must be completed, when the contract is let,
systems                        and when construction must conclude, and
                               manage the project to meet the dates. Use
                               project-scheduling software available off the
                               shelf that indicates where project delays occur
                               as well as what is ahead of schedule.                       31            3.6                    51.6
Context sensitive design       Projects must be designed to consider their
                               environmental and social context so that
                               projects meet the needs of the communities.
                               These factors are incorporated into the
                               transportation planning process.                            32            3.5                    50.0
Geographic information         Use of data collected by various federal and
systems                        state resource agencies to identify
                               environmental and historic issues early during
                               environmental review, determine alignments
                               that minimize adverse impacts, and support
                               integrated interagency review.                              32            3.5                    62.5




                                               Page 27                           GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                               Appendix II
                                               Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                               Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                               Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                                                                                           Percent of
                                                                                                                         respondents
                                                                                                                 indicating approach
                                                                                    Number of        Average        has great or very
Approach                      Description                                         respondents         ratinga         great potential
Public information meetings   Hold public meetings early and often to
                              provide information on projects that are
                              planned or underway.                                          32            3.5                    50.0
Wetlands banking              Blanket agreements between state
                              departments of transportation and wetland
                              permitting agencies to create large areas of
                              wetlands rather than small wetlands at each
                              construction site.                                            26            3.5                    46.2
Partner with groups           Identify groups that have developed best
                              practices, or offer technical expertise, to
                              ensure that information is shared in order to
                              expedite project completion.                                  31            3.3                    41.9
Acculturation                 Work to achieve recognition in transportation
                              staff of the inherent benefits of environmentally
                              sound projects; work to achieve recognition of
                              the value of transportation projects on behalf
                              of resource agencies.                                         31            3.3                    41.9
Formal elevation process      Formalized process in which resource
                              agencies elevate unresolved issues through
                              the chain of command, with the final step
                              being senior management.                                      32            3.2                    46.9
Internet                      Use the internet to provide technical training
                              and reference materials. Use the internet to
                              allow access to agency guidance materials,
                              regulations, and federal and state laws.                      32            3.0                    34.4
Allow early right-of-way      To save time and money associated with
acquisition                   relocation, acquire potential project right-of-
                              way during project design.                                    29            3.0                    34.5
Biennial reviews              Conduct biennial reviews by state
                              transportation agencies to help identify
                              bottlenecks.                                                  29            3.0                    31.0
National conferences          Hold national conferences to bring
                              practitioners and other stakeholders together
                              to share information.                                         31            2.9                    25.8
Environmental information     Fund and operate a central information
center                        storehouse for transportation and resource
                              agencies.                                                     31            2.8                    22.6
Aerial surveying and imaging Highly accurate digital terrain data models and
technology                   maps can become available early in project
                             design with substantially reduced time, effort,
                             and expense compared with only using ground
                             surveys. Contractors can manage the
                             earthwork of a project with significant
                             precision.                                                     28            2.8                    25.0




                                               Page 28                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                             Appendix II
                                             Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                             Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                             Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                                                                                         Percent of
                                                                                                                       respondents
                                                                                                               indicating approach
                                                                                  Number of        Average        has great or very
Approach                    Description                                         respondents         ratinga         great potential
Hire consultants or         Consultants or contractors provide technical
contractors                 analyses instead of agency staff who instead
                            focus on project management.                                  27            2.8                    25.9
State funding of historic   State governments provide funds for historic
preservation activities     preservation activities outside the federal State
                            Historic Preservation Officers program.                       30            2.8                    33.3
Metropolitan capacity       Work to improve the technical skills of
building                    metropolitan planning organizations so that
                            planning can focus on policy decisions rather
                            than technical and administrative issues.                     26            2.8                    38.5
Environmental compliance    Provide a system to ensure that mitigation
mitigation systems          measures are carried out as needed and
                            specified.                                                    32            2.8                    28.1
Single agency point of      Rather than have multiple contacts for
contact                     members of the public, have one single
                            contact, reducing confusion, and
                            communication delays.                                         30            2.7                    16.7
Videotaped guidance on      Videotaped presentations on methods to
promising approaches        reduce project completion time.                               31            2.7                    19.4
Travel model improvement    Improve transportation modeling to more
                            accurately portray traffic patterns and growth.               28            2.6                    25.0
Awards programs to          Design a national awards program to provide
recognize agency            recognition for departments of transportation
achievements                and resource agencies for innovative projects
                            and leadership.                                               30            2.5                    13.3
Regular publications        Organize and distribute publications on a
                            regular basis (i.e., weekly newsletters, monthly
                            magazines, and quarterly web magazines).                      32            2.5                    25.0
Peer reviews                Federal transportation officials provide state
                            transportation officials with recommendations
                            on revising existing specifications or
                            procedures. Surveys of peers allow
                            transportation and resource agency officials to
                            determine performance relative to peers.                      30            2.4                     6.7
Infer the presence of       Proceed under the assumption that
endangered species          endangered species are present at a project
                            site, reducing the likelihood of later delay and
                            ultimately saving costs.                                      30            2.4                     6.7
Professional organization   Participation in engineering, accounting,
membership                  finance, management, and other discipline
                            organizations.                                                29            2.2                    17.2




                                             Page 29                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                                Appendix II
                                                Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                                Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                                Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                                                                                          Percent of
                                                                                                                        respondents
                                                                                                                indicating approach
                                                                                   Number of        Average        has great or very
Approach                       Description                                       respondents         ratinga         great potential
Subsurface utility             Provides accurate mapping of existing
engineering                    underground utilities during the project design
                               process using geophysics, surveying and civil
                               engineering rather than determining utility
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               locations later during the construction phase.               24
Clarify role of metropolitan   Clarify laws to reduce confusion of roles
planning organizations         between state departments of transportation
                               and metropolitan planning organizations for
                               creating and implementing transportation
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               plans.                                                       24
Incentive/disincentive         Giving the contractor a financial incentive for
construction contracting       every day that the contract is completed early
                               and a financial disincentive for failure to
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               complete a project on time.                                  23
Use consultants or             Expedite the procurement process for
                                                                                                            b                      b
contractors                    appraisal services and reduce fees and costs.                22
Design build contracting       One entity, the design-builder, forges a single
                               contract with the state transportation agency
                               to provide for architectural and engineering
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               design and construction services.                            21
A + B bidding for              Involves cost and time in the low bid
construction contracts         determination. Submitted bids consist of
                               dollar amount of all work to be performed, as
                               well as total number of calendar days required
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               to complete the project.                                     21
Advanced clearing and          Contract for clearing vegetation and removing
grubbing contracts             roots and stumps (grubbing) in the project
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               right-of-way in advance of the project.                      21
Change control policy for      Establish procedures to monitor and limit
                                                                                                            b                      b
construction contracts         contractor change orders.                                    21
Lane rental construction       Assess the contractor a fee for each day of
contracts                      lane closure in excess of the number of total
                               lane rental days originally bid by the
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               contractor.                                                  20
Lump sum construction          Contractor submits a lump sum price to
contracts                      complete a project as opposed to bidding on
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               individual items.                                            20
Utility relocation contracts   Include utility relocation in construction
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               contract.                                                    20
Indefinite quantity,           Contractors bid on work items with the location
indefinite completion          to be determined under future work orders
contracting                    (e.g., for installation of traffic signals on a
                                                                                                            b                      b
                               citywide, or areawide basis).                                19




                                                Page 30                          GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                              Appendix II
                                              Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                              Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                              Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                                                                                                                                       Percent of
                                                                                                                                     respondents
                                                                                                                             indicating approach
                                                                                        Number of             Average           has great or very
Approach                      Description                                             respondents              ratinga            great potential
Noncost selection factor      Allow contracts to consider such factors as
contracting                   previous work quality, rather than selecting the
                                                                                                                        b                               b
                              lowest bidder.                                                       19
System integrator contracts   Allow contractors to serve as the construction
                              manager, including advertising, letting and
                              awarding contracts using state and federal
                              acquisition guidelines. In addition to contract
                              management, the contractor will perform
                                                                                                                        b                               b
                              project supervision and system integration.                          18
Bid averaging method of       Once a minimum number of bids are received,
contracting                   state determines the average bid and selects
                                                                                                                        b                               b
                              contractor whose bid is closest to the average.                      16
Source: GAO.
                                              a
                                               Respondents rated each approach’s potential for reducing project completion time using the following
                                              scale: 1= little to no potential to reduce project completion time; 2= some potential to reduce project
                                              completion time; 3= moderate potential to reduce project completion time; 4= great potential to reduce
                                              project completion time; 5= very great potential to reduce project completion time. Respondents could
                                              also tell us that they did not know or had no basis to judge.
                                              b
                                               No statistic is reported because less than 75 percent of the 33 respondents provided a rating for this
                                              approach.


                                              In some cases, respondents with similar primary interests or
                                              responsibilities rated approaches similarly; in other cases, their views
                                              diverged. (See table 7; approaches in bold are the 13 approaches that
                                              respondents rated most highly overall.)




                                              Page 31                                 GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                               Appendix II
                                               Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                               Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                               Respondents




Table 7: Views on Approaches to Reduce Highway Project Completion Time Often Varied by Respondent Affiliation

                           Views among agencies or associations primarily         Views among agencies or associations primarily
                                 affiliated with funding, managing, or             affiliated with natural or historic environmental
                                    constructing highway projects                                        issues
                                 Number of         Number of        Number of           Number of        Number of          Number of
                               respondents       respondents      respondents         respondents      respondents       respondents
                                  indicating        indicating       indicating          indicating       indicating        indicating
                              approach has      approach has     approach has        approach has     approach has      approach has
                               great or very         moderate      no to some         great or very        moderate        no to some
Approach                     great potential         potential        potential     great potential        potential         potential
Early partnership and
coordination                             17                  2               1                  11                0                    0
Establish time frames
for NEPA process                         16                  3               1                   2                4                    4
Revise section 4(f)                      16                  4               0                   5                3                    2
Programmatic
agreements                               14                  5               1                   7                4                    0
Establish project
milestones and
performance
monitoring systems                       12                  8               0                   4                3                    4
Formal elevation process                 12                  4               4                   3                3                    6
Unify Clean Water Act
section 404 and NEPA
processes                                12                  7               1                   3                2                    1
Geographic
information systems                      10                  4               6                  10                 1                   1
Wetlands banking                         10                10                0                   2                2                    2
Training                                 10                  8               2                   7                5                    0
Preliminary
environmental
assessment reports                        9                  7               4                   8                3                    1
Interagency funding
agreements                                9                  5               6                  10                1                    1
Allow early right-of-way
acquisition                               8                  9               2                   2                0                    8
Partner with groups                       8                  7               4                   5                6                    1
Public information
meetings                                  8                  8               4                   8                3                    1
Biennial reviews                          7                  3               8                   2                5                    4
Hire consultants or
contractors                               6                  6               7                   1                3                    4
Context sensitive
design                                    6                  9               5                  10                1                    1




                                               Page 32                            GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
                                                Appendix II
                                                Promising Approaches for Reducing Highway
                                                Project Completion Time as Identified by
                                                Respondents




(Continued From Previous Page)
                            Views among agencies or associations primarily                 Views among agencies or associations primarily
                                  affiliated with funding, managing, or                     affiliated with natural or historic environmental
                                     constructing highway projects                                                issues
                                  Number of         Number of            Number of               Number of             Number of              Number of
                                respondents       respondents          respondents             respondents           respondents           respondents
                                   indicating        indicating           indicating              indicating            indicating            indicating
                               approach has      approach has         approach has            approach has          approach has          approach has
                                great or very         moderate          no to some             great or very             moderate            no to some
Approach                      great potential         potential            potential         great potential             potential             potential
National conferences                       5                     5                   10                       3                     5                        3
Internet                                   5                     8                    7                       6                     3                        3
Metropolitan capacity
building                                   4                     3                   11                       6                     2                        0
Acculturation                              4                     8                    7                       9                     2                        1
Single agency point of
contact                                    4                     9                    7                       1                     3                        6
Environmental
compliance mitigation
systems                                    4                     5                   11                       5                     4                        3
Aerial surveying and
imaging technology                         3                     7                    8                       4                     4                        2
State funding of historic
preservation activities                    3                     6                   10                       7                     2                        2
Professional organization
membership                                 3                     5                   11                       2                     1                        7
Environmental
information center                         3                     8                    9                       4                     5                        2
Video                                      3                     6                   11                       3                     5                        3
Regular publications                       3                     4                   13                       5                     1                        6
Awards program to
recognize agency
achievements                               2                     7                   10                       2                     6                        3
Infer the presence of
endangered species                         2                     5                   13                       3                     3                        3
Travel model
improvement                                1                     6                   12                       6                     2                        1
Peer reviews                               1                     9                   10                       1                     4                        5
Source: GAO.

                                                Notes: Includes the 34 approaches where more than 75 percent of the 33 respondents rated an
                                                approach.
                                                The table is ordered from most popular to least popular among respondents with primary
                                                responsibilities for or interests in funding or constructing a highway project to better show similarities
                                                and differences in rating.




(542007)                                        Page 33                                   GAO-03-398 Reducing Highway Project Completion Time
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